Robert Zemeckis never stopped making films, but somehow managed to leave the impression that he had. The director of many 1980s and 1990s crowd-pleasers (‘Back to the Future’ ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit’, ‘Forrest Gump’) was one of the first to try out the new world of 3D motion capture cinema with ‘The Polar Express’ in 2004, and stuck with it throughout the decade, giving us new adaptations of ‘Beowulf’ and ‘A Christmas Carol’. He seemed to have left live-action cinema behind forever, and was all set to continue in this manner until the studio pulled the plug on his planned 3D remake of ‘Yellow Submarine’. The format itself isn’t necessarily to blame, maybe it’s just that his animated films were all rather underwhelming, but now, with the release of ‘Flight’, his first live-action film since ‘Cast Away’ in 2000, it feels like Zemeckis’s comeback.
In keeping with that, it’s great to report that ‘Flight’ is a return to form. Still, it’s quite a different type of film than what we’re accustomed to Zemeckis making, in that it’s aimed at a more mature audience. Zemeckis wishes to establish this straight away by cramming a good deal of nudity, drugs and swearing into the film’s opening 10 minutes, which introduces us to Denzel Washington’s pilot William ‘Whip’ Whitaker.
He awakens following a booze-filled night with one of his stewardesses, finishes a beer beside his bed, and shares a joint with her, then promptly snorts a line of cocaine before getting uniformed up for his morning flight. The flight itself, which has unfortunately been shown a lot in the film’s promotional campaign, is an incredible and terrifying set-piece, in which Washington has to take manual control of his plane to try and save it as it plummets toward the ground.
That’s all the ‘action’ flight has to offer though, post-crash it segues into a character study (with some legal drama) as Whitaker copes with the aftermath, unknowing if he is the hero or cause of the crash.
The film has no trouble in maintaining interest though, and doesn’t turn into the conventional redemption story some have reported it as being. This is helped in no small part by the central performance, Denzel Washington, another 80s/90s great, working with Zemeckis for the first time really sinks his teeth into his best role in years, and in turn delivers his best work since ‘Training Day’.
There is one surprising annoyance to be found in ‘Flight’ though; it’s soundtrack. While there’s nothing wrong with Alan Silvestri’s score, the film also uses songs at various key points, all of which are blindingly obvious choices. A ‘someone’s taking drugs, put in a well-known song about drugs’ (‘Under the Bridge’) type of thinking. It’s a lazy approach to one element in an otherwise professional film, particularly unexpected considering how well music has been used by Zemeckis in the past.
‘Flight’ is a good, solid, and in these days, unusual drama, anchored by a terrific lead performance, a welcome return from Zemeckis.